Religious groups take more measures to prevent coronavirus spread

At the newly reopened Angullia Mosque in Serangoon Road, protective sheets to be placed on the floor during prayers were supplied.
At the newly reopened Angullia Mosque in Serangoon Road, protective sheets to be placed on the floor during prayers were supplied. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Catholic churches suspend public mass, Muslims urged to bring own prayer mats

Public mass has been suspended until further notice across the more than 30 Catholic churches in Singapore, after a string of cases of coronavirus infections linked to places of worship.

In a letter posted on the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore's website as well as on its Facebook page, Archbishop William Goh said all other public Catholic events with large numbers of people attending, such as formation sessions, retreats and seminars, should be suspended as well.

"Given the current escalating situation which is proving to be difficult to contain, all public masses, both on weekdays and weekends, will be suspended indefinitely with effect on Saturday, Feb 15, 12pm until there is greater clarity on the way forward," he wrote.

The move came ahead of a meeting last night between Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu with church leaders, though it is unclear if the Catholic Church was part of the meeting.

The Ministry of Health said that worship services may continue with appropriate precautionary measures. "As churches are places where large numbers of congregants come together to worship, it is important to put in place precautionary measures and emphasise personal hygiene practices to reduce the risk of transmission," the ministry said.

Yesterday, the Grace Assembly of God church became the largest cluster of coronavirus infections here.

Another six cases were linked to the church yesterday and five cases the day before, making it 13 cases there in total.

It is the second infection cluster linked to a church. A couple from Wuhan and three Singaporeans have been linked to an infection cluster at The Life Church and Missions Singapore in Paya Lebar.

Since Wednesday, the Grace Assembly of God church, which is not a Catholic church, has stopped all its services and activities for two weeks.

Similar precautions are also being rolled out at other places of worship.

Earlier yesterday, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli encouraged all Muslims attending prayers at mosques to take their own mats and to avoid shaking hands.

 
 
 

These measures can better protect congregants from the coronavirus, while still allowing them to perform their religious obligations, he said, speaking to reporters at the newly rebuilt Angullia Mosque in Serangoon Road, which opened its doors yesterday after nearly two years of renovations.

Mr Masagos also told congregants that one way to minimise contact is to avoid shaking hands, a customary greeting for Muslims.

"In these circumstances, we will not be shaking hands. But if you do, wash your hands, and then make sure you don't touch your face. This is just a precaution for many of us who always forget that," he said.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery in Sin Ming said it has suspended all events, classes and group chanting for the rest of the month.

An advisory from The Singapore Buddhist Federation sent on Feb 5 advised Buddhist temples here to try to have fewer, or scale down or cancel, religious gatherings.

Mega-church City Harvest, which has 16,000 congregants, will not be holding its weekend services at its regular venue in a Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre auditorium. Instead, till the end of the month, it will be streaming them online.

In a letter on its website published on Feb 8, the National Council of Churches of Singapore said churches here will continue to provide worship service, but requested that those who are unwell stay home, as they would be denied entry.

Churches here will also be introducing control measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, such as temperature screening, ventilating their premises and having enough hand-washing facilities, as well as more frequent cleaning.

Similarly, a spokesman for the Hindu Endowments Board said Hindu temples are also mitigating the risk of coronavirus infection by cleaning common areas more frequently, having daily temperature checks for staff and visitors, and providing face masks and sanitisers for anyone who may need them.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2020, with the headline 'Religious groups take more measures to prevent spread'. Print Edition | Subscribe